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Eighties’ best 100 redux: #97 The Box “L’affaire Dumoutier (Say to me)” (1985)

<< #98    |    #96 >>

My parents must’ve gotten tired of waking me up in time to go to school at some point a few years before high school because, one Christmas, I received as a gift my very own clock/radio. These are probably not in use as much these days with today’s youth, possibly opting instead for setting an alarm on their smartphones. However, it’s a gift I grew to love, not long after I got over the shock of unwrapping something other than games or chocolates or clothing. With the novelty of it, I plugged it in right away and placed it within arm’s reach of my single bed. I set the time and an alarm time around 7am and then, started playing with the other functions. I turned on the radio and found CFTR, an old AM radio station that has long since gone talk radio but at the time was playing current hits, and I likely didn’t touch the dial for quite a few years.

It was this clock/radio that started a habit that I didn’t break myself of until I moved in with my girlfriend, now wife, a decade and a half later. I discovered the sleep function and fell asleep to the sweet sounds of music every night, some nights I would have had to extend the sleep past the standard hour when it took longer. This is where I discovered a lot of music in my youth, some of which are still favourites and some appear on this list, including this song.

I definitely remember hearing “L’affaire Dumoutier (say to me)” quite often in the evenings while falling asleep or as the alarm went off in the mornings*. I didn’t know the name of it at the time, nor did I know who performed the song, I wouldn’t discover either of these until much, much later, during a period in the early 2000s when I started using the powers of the internet for good and ill and to reconnect with the long-lost favourites of my youth.

The Box was formed by Jean-Marc Pisapia in Montreal in 1981, a year after he left Men Without Hats**, and they released four full-length studio albums before disbanding a decade later. Little did I know that they were actually quite successful in the late 80s and had a string of hit singles on Canadian radio, many of which I actually knew and loved. I only discovered this last fact recently when I saw them advertised as touring here in Ontario with Chalk Circle, another classic Canadian alternative band, and decided to investigate songs other than “L’affaire Dumoutier”.

Although I can say now that I am more of a true fan of their work, this one is still my favourite. Based on a real news item that Pisapia had read that had haunted him, the song deals with mental illness and its dangers, a murder committed when its perpetrator was not in his right mind. The sound of the song is also haunting, the gonging of church bells interspersed with police sirens in the fog, the verses spoken as news reportage, including interviews and statements, both in English and French, and though I couldn’t understand it all when I was younger, I knew something dark was at play. Of course, the chorus as a counterpoint is a singalong and infinitely hummable, which I did at various points in my life whenever the song came back to me.

Original Eighties best 100 position: n/a

Favourite lyric:  “Non coupable! Pour cause d’aliénation mentale…” My French wasn’t strong enough for me to understand what this meant at the time but I still loved how this was spoken with such finality to end the song. Now that I can understand it, I appreciate it even more.

Where are they now?: Jean-Marc Pisapia revived the band back in 2004 with himself being the only original member. This new incarnation has since released two albums, an EP, and a bunch of singles and has toured quite regularly.

*Because, of course, I used to opt for radio rather alarm sound to wake me up.

**Another Canadian new wave group of whom some of you may have heard.

For the rest of the Eighties’ best 100 redux list, click here.

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Eighties’ best 100 redux: #98 Nena “99 luftballons” (1983, 1984)

<< #99    |    #97 >>

Back when I counted down my Eighties’ best 100 the first time, “99 luftballons” came in at #99. Honest to god. And I didn’t even plan it that way.

In fact, I hadn’t even realize what I had done until I was discussing the list with my friend and colleague Ian and let slip the song at #99 on said list. I actually considered switching the list order right there and then, so that the readers on my old blog didn’t think I was trying to be clever. In the end, I decided it was too early in the game to be making changes to the list and in spite of those original worries, I decided to let the list grow organically this time around as well, and the let proverbial chips fall where they may. So it is merely incidental (I assure you) that for this redux, the song moves up one spot to number 98.

Of the now three songs into my top 100 songs of the eighties, “99 luftballons” is the first but most likely not that last song by a so-called “one hit wonder” to grace the list. I think it would be near impossible to discuss the best tracks of the nineteen-eighties without one or two of them rearing their ugly noggins because the decade was full of them.

Unlike the previous two songs, I distinctly remember listening to this one when it was popular back in 1984. I used to watch the Chum FM 30 video countdown every week on CityTV and wait for the video to come on, typically near the top of the list. What I didn’t know back then though was that the version I was listening to (and watching) was translated and re-recorded into English from the original German to be more palatable for international audiences (hey, I was still a kid). I didn’t actually hear the original German version until almost a decade later when a friend in university put it on a mixed tape of retro tunes that she made for me.

Nena (named for the lead singer Gabriele Kerner, whose stage name was Nena) came from the very German school of New German Wave music. It originated as an underground scene that was heavily influenced by British Punk and New Wave. As the sound gained popularity, more commercially viable bands based on this sound came out of the woodwork, incorporating English instead of German lyrics, among these were Nena and other acts you might recognize (like Alphaville, Peter Schilling, and Falco).

Most people I encounter prefer the German version of the song but I can appreciate both (and I have included both for your listening pleasure below). The German version because it is as was initially intended and the English because I likely would have never truly understood the song in the first place and it really is worth understanding. It’s not just a good beat that you can dance to. In fact, its Cold War protest implications landed itself a place in an exhibit I once took in at the Canadian War Museum on the impacts of the Cold War on music and music videos, along with Alphaville’s “Forever Young.” I don’t think that particular exhibit is still there but the museum is very cool and if you’re ever in Ottawa, I highly recommend checking it out.

I’m sure you’re familiar with one of these two versions but here they are for your enjoyment nonetheless.

First, here’s the German version:

Now, the English version:

Original Eighties best 100 position: #99

Favourite lyric:
In German:
“Hab’ nen Luftballon gefunden / Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen” I don’t know what she’s saying – it’s just the way she sings it.

In English:
“This is what we’ve waited for / This is it boys, this is war” Again, it’s the way she sings it.

Where are they now?: Nena (the band) broke up long ago but Nena (the solo artist) had a resurgence in popularity in the early 2000s and was rather prolific up until 2015. She most recently released a new album called “Licht” in 2020.

For the rest of the Eighties’ best 100 redux list, click here.

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100 best covers: #52 Depeche Mode “Route 66”

<< #53    |    #51 >>

I was pretty bummed a few weeks ago when I first caught wind of the news that Depeche Mode founding member Andrew Fletcher had passed away. It was merely incidental that I was just gearing up to write this very post. In light of the news, I pondered writing up something more specific towards giving due to the group’s quiet member but the one that purportedly held the whole thing together. In the end, though, I decided to continue on with my original plan and to simply give thoughts on the tune at hand.

I first heard Depeche Mode’s cover of “Route 66” care of my old friend John, many, many moons ago. In fact, it was right around the time that I was just getting into the band, just shortly after the start of the 1990s. He was a bit of an obsessive, my friend John. He already had pretty much everything the group had released thus far on compact disc, which was actually quite a bit. This included the three singles box sets that they had just released and a handful of the latter day CD singles not included in those sets. I remember one evening in his living room, he pulled out his extensive collection and spread it out around us while he played choice clips on his parents’ sweet stereo set up, the volume knob creeping upwards and then sliding back down again at his parents’ behest. “Route 66” was one such choice tune.

This cover was originally recorded as road trip themed b-side for the “Behind the wheel” single. It was recorded in one day and mixed on the next. It incorporated elements of “Behind the wheel” and on some remixes of “Behind the wheel”, we get smatterings of “Route 66”. It was so beloved by everyone (include the record execs), that some were pushing for it to be released as a double A-side, it found a spot on the “Earth girls are easy” film soundtrack of 1988, and it was liberally used throughout Depeche Mode’s tour documentary “101” in 1989.

“Route 66” was originally written by American songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946 after a road trip he took with his wife from Pennsylvania to California and he incorporated the names of places they had passed along the way. The song’s original recording came by way of Nat King Cole and his trio and has become a classic rhythm and blues standard since then, covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones. So it’s no wonder that this one was familiar to me, stood out amongst the many other tracks John played for me on that night, and I asked in particular for the Beatmasters mix that combined this with “Behind the wheel” for an extended groove to be included on the mixed tape he later promised me.

I only heard the King Cole Trio original for the first time this week and though it sounds great, his voice and the classic jazz instrumentation, I cannot in good conscience choose it over Depeche Mode’s cover. Alan Wilder, Andrew Fletcher, Martin Gore, and David Graham made this song their own. The electronic and driving beats really evoke the speeds of highway driving and the bluesy riffs of electric guitar only only accentuate the feeling. Sweet stuff.

Cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.